Britain’s top EU diplomat sensationally quit today in a hammerblow for Theresa May’s Brexit plan.
The UK’s ambassador to Brussels Sir Ivan Rogers resigned weeks after it emerged he warned No10 it could take a decade to strike a trade deal with the bloc.
Reports suggested the “knives were out” for Sir Ivan because of his “gloomy pessimism”.
He had been expected to take a leading role in early Brexit talks before stepping down in 10 months – but he told staff he would be leaving the post early.
George Osborne, who was knifed out himself by Theresa May, immediately sprang to Sir Ivan’s defence calling him a “perceptive, pragmatic & patriotic public servant”.
And the former head of the Treasury reportedly described the move as “amateurism” and “wilful and total destruction of EU expertise”.
The comment came on a Twitter account in the name of Nick Macpherson, who was the department’s Permanent Secretary for a decade to January 2016. It could not immediately be confirmed if Lord Macpherson himself made the comments.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock said Sir Ivan had been playing an “absolutely pivotal role in the Brexit process” and his departure was a blow.
“With Boris (Johnson) and the Brexiteers blundering around like bulls in a china shop, we know that the work of our diplomatic corps has never been more important,” he said.
“Sir Ivan’s resignation, seemingly out of the blue, raises serious concerns about the Government’s shambolic approach. Theresa May is recklessly sailing our country into uncharted waters without a map or a compass.”
Former trade secretary Lord Mandelson, of the Open Britain campaign, said the resignation was “a serious loss for us in Brussels” adding: “Our negotiation as a whole will go nowhere if Ministers are going to delude themselves about the immense difficulty and challenges Britain faces.”
Yet bullish ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage claimed the resignation was a good thing.
“I welcome the resignation of UK ambassador to Brussels, Ivan Rogers. The Foreign Office needs a complete clear out,” he said.
Asked if he might take the job, Mr Farage smirked and said: “I don’t know, my name was suggested – I suspect it’s unlikely!”
And Brexit-backing Tory Peter Lilley dismissed the row, claiming: “I think it is very minor… The civil service is full of able people.”
Richard Tice of the Leave Means Leave group claimed it would have been “completely inappropriate for him to stay in post and obstruct the Brexit process any further”, before immediately calling for someone “independently minded”.
But Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the resignation was “deeply worrying” and a “real loss”.
He added: “Sir Ivan was right to share with the Government the soundings he was receiving from EU member states about the complexity of striking a UK-EU trade deal within two years.
“The Prime Minister needs to be far more willing to hear difficult truths.”
Brexit Select Committee chairman Hilary Benn warned the government “will have to get its skates on to make sure there is a replacement in place.”
He added: “The hard work is going to start very soon, because if Article 50 is triggered, as the Government says it wishes to, by the end of March, then negotiations will probably begin shortly thereafter.
“And having a handover in the middle of that, depending on when exactly he goes, is not ideal.”
Lib Dem EU spokesman and former deputy PM Nick Clegg called Sir Ivan’s departure a “body blow” to the government’s Brexit plan.
“I worked for Ivan Rogers in the EU twenty years ago – then he worked for me and the rest of the Coalition Government several years later,” he said.
“Throughout all that time Ivan was always punctiliously objective and rigorous in all he did and all the advice he provided.
“If the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in Government, it counts as a spectacular own goal.
“The Government needs all the help it can get from good civil servants to deliver a workable Brexit.”
A memo reportedly from Sir Ivan was leaked in December, warning ministers a post- Brexit trade deal with the EU could take 10 years to finalise and could still fail.
January 3rd, 2017: The Mirror